The sun had already set when the fireworks started going off in Baker Lake. Nearly the entire town was gathered along the shoreline on Aug. 20 with their headlights beaming toward the horizon to welcome their hunters home.
After close to a month at sea, more than a dozen Baker Lake hunters returned, having proven their prowess. Earlier that week, they managed to harvest a 46-foot bowhead whale, becoming the first inland community in Nunavut to do so.
As Mayor Richard Aksawnee proclaimed, Aug. 15 was truly a “historic day” for Baker Lake.
While they had their doubters, the hunters proved that hard work, perseverance and teamwork can pay off.
According to captain Philip Putumiraqtuq, the hunters had been camping near Naujaat for nearly three weeks when they started to think about giving up.
Several crew members had already left due to family emergencies. Then, on the night of Aug. 15, someone in Naujaat spotted a whale about 10 kilometres offshore from where the hunters were camping.
After Putumiraqtuq consulted with his crew, the decision was made to pursue the whale despite heavy seas. In the end, they were successful in landing the massive mammal.
While the hunters were at sea and on the land for nearly a month before returning home, their harvest represented more than a year of planning and teamwork.
As Aksawnee pointed out, there were countless hours of meetings and coordinating with neighbouring communities. Indeed, even though it was Baker Lake hunters who took down the whale, they could not have succeeded without the support of the neighbouring communities of Coral Harbour, Chesterfield Inlet and, most importantly, Naujaat. Mining company Agnico Eagle also chipped in by helping to pay for the equipment needed for the hunt.
Not only did the whale yield enough maktak to be shared with several communities, Naujaatmiut rushed down to help the hunters butcher the whale after landing it, showing just how communal an effort the endeavour was.
It was a historic day for Baker Lake, but the joy is being shared throughout the Kivalliq.
The harvest was also a much-needed bit of welcome news for Baker Lake. Between recent tragic deaths and the fire at the community’s daycare, it was good to have something to celebrate.
It just so happens that the hunters returned the same weekend that the community was holding grad celebrations, which meant more fireworks and more festivities.
With this chapter in Baker Lake’s history coming to a close, the time the community harvested a bowhead whale is something that will be remembered for generations to come.